Car reversed while in drive?

Three days ago I pulled into my house and turned the car off. Smoke started billowing out from under the hood accompanied with the smell of burning. It was night, so it was too dark to figure out what the problem was (I assumed low coolant), so the next day I took a look and my antifreeze was almost completely bone dry. I rectified the problem and didn’t drive it til the next day (yesterday).
I left my house, drove on the highway and everything sounded just fine, even while I was going 65. When I reached a stoplight, suddenly the check engine light came on along with the oil light and the battery light came on so my power steering shut off along with my AC, also there was a slight burning smell again. I thought to just drive the car to the side of the road to cool down, so I took my foot off the break but all of a sudden I began going in reverse, although I was still in drive and not on an incline of any kind. I tapped the gas peddle and began accelerating backwards. Naturally I slammed on the brakes, put it in park, and commenced to freak out.
It’s at a repair shop now and they found that a water pump/valve had burst and all my antifreeze was gone again, but when I explained the above situation, they were baffled, they never heard of a car shifting itself into reverse and he assumed I was on an hill, but the road I was on was quite flat. Also, when I was going back, it felt like I was in reverse, not drifting backwards, you know the feeling. The mechanic drove it a bit in the parking lot this morning and my car was perfectly fine, no lights, no burning smell, no smoke, no weird backwards movement, so I assume (and hope) it’s not the transmission, but I don’t know cars.
If you have any suggestions or diagnosis I’d very much appreciate it, as my mechanic and I are scratching our heads.
Thank you!

I wonder if the leaking coolant could have gotten into the electronics that control the transmission somehow. Otherwise, I can’t picture any way this could happen.

Model-Year ?
Make ?
Model ?
How Many Miles On It ?


Sorry, it’s a '97 Toyota Corolla with over 198,000

Did The Mechanic Check The Motor & Transmission Mounts ?

Maybe the engine and trans are flopping around like a tuna on the deck of a fishing boat, pulling it out of gear, burning belts and breaking parts against something thay shouldn’t be close to.

Could be that shifting gears or hitting the gas sets the fish a’jumpin.

Those mounts and all the other parts in this car would be freshman or sophomores in high school if they went to one.


I’m not doubting your truthfulness but it is easy to make mistakes when in a crisis situation . . . like car stalling in traffic. Are you certain that you didn’t bump the transmission into reverse when you were so flustered? I can’t see how else the transmission can shift by itself. Even the suggestion by lion of coolant getting into the electronics is a stretch . . . don’t you ever drive it in the rain? My guess is that you bumped it into “R” and then corrected it when you were flustered. Smoke . . burning smell . . . loss of all power . . . warning lights . . . in traffic? My advice is to llow the current mechanic to fix the coolant problem and drive it for a while, checking the shifting, etc. Good luck! Rocketman

If the engine was overheating, stopped and then started dieseling, could it have been running backwards? I once had a 73 Oldsmobile that I could turn off and it would continue to run long after I had left the car. I never tried to put it into gear but I wonder if it was actually running the other way?

Rich, I wondered the same thing. While the crank, cams, and drivetrain could theoretically run backwards momentarily, I wonder about the crank position sensor, the cam (or crank) speed sensor, the igniter, etc.

Long term things like the water pump, the oil pump, the and other components would pervent it from continuing, and the spark timing and valve timing might cause damage, but I think momentarily running backwards is entirely possible.

Guys? I’m open to opinions.

I’m voting for accidentally shifting into reverse during the confusion of the situation. In other words, “driver error.”

Smoke, loss of AC and PS? The serpentine belt burned off, probably because of a seized water pump.

There’s no magic here.

Only problem with the burned up belt theory is that it’s been driven since - twice. That sounded like a shot to me too, until those notes.

Dieseling in reverse…maybe for a few seconds, maybe longer…but if you tromp on the gas and it accelerates in reverse…

I’m feeling the tendency to /agree with Rocketman.

I am also leaning toward agreeing with Rocketman.

After all, in so many of the unintended acceleration cases of the past, the driver was quoted as saying something along the lines of, “the harder I pressed on the brake pedal, the faster the car went”.
Yup! Because they were actually tromping on the accelerator pedal!

Yes, driver error is the most likely explantion, IMHO, even though in the aftermath of an incident, few people are willing to admit even the possibility of driver error while in the heat of the moment.

I did not shift it into reverse. That was my first thought as I was going backwards, but my car is an automatic, you have to make the decision to shift it, you can’t just bump it. I looked down as I was going backwards and saw that I was in drive. I even shifted to reverse and back up to drive again to see if that would help. It didn’t I still went in reverse. Trust me, I would be the first to admit an error in this situation, that would mean my car was fine and not going crazy.
I may not be the smartest car owner in the world, but I’m not that dumb :smiley:

OK, then we go with that. The transmission somehow put itself in reverse. If I remember my Corolla’s correctly, it’s a center console shift, with a button you have to depress to move into (and through) reverse…and to remove from park.

All the smoke and burning had to have come from someplace. And you said there was a CEL. Get the computer read, and see what that code(s) is/was, and post the exact codes here. Let’s see where that leads us. You can enter their definition of the codes, but the codes themselves are what we really need.

This is bizarre…maybe not the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of, but the weirdest CAR thing I’ve heard of in a while, to be sure.


Check the odor of the transmission fluid. If it smells burnt, you might have found the source of your problem(s).


Next time that smoke come billowing out from under your hood, please take the car to the shop immediately. Something significant is wrong in that case. You put yourself at risk by continuing to drive it.

Dieseling in reverse–unlikely. Maybe on a carbureted engine. Not possible with fuel injection.

Just because you’ve never heard of such a thing happening, doesnt mean it didn’t happen. I’m a mechanic. I just did a tcm and a 4,5,6 reverse drum swap on a 2008 malibu with a 6t70 transmission. Hands are still greasy, so this legit just happened.
Reverse was originally out. Only 1st gear worked. Now reverse works great, but a little too well. When I put the car in drive, it goes into reverse. Can’t give you any answers. Just wanted to back this dude up since y’all know everything about cars and wanna chalk it up to customer errors all the time like most shops do.

@Bradley.cox1989_168309 You do realize this thread topic was nine years ago? The original poster is long gone as are sadly too many of those who replied to the OP.

I just have one question for Bradley.cox.

Are you saying that you did a piece meal repair and not a full rebuild on a 12 year old automatic transmission?

Read Bradley’s post . I have a feeling that is not someone I would use for transmission repair.